Absolute Pacifism and Justifiable War: The Orthodox Paradox
Even a brief perusal of the blogosphere will show the questions surrounding war--both concerning the current struggle in Iraq and in general--are popular discussion fodder in Christian circles, Orthodox included.
Fr. Alexander F. C. Webster, a renowned Orthodox theologian and expert on the patristic tradition regarding issues of war, military violence and peace, is interviewed in the latest issue of "Again" magazine.
"What I've discovered through this decades-long research into components of Orthodox moral tradition is the primary thesis of my scholarly life--the inescapable conclusion that Orthodox Christianity approaches war and peace from two apparently contradictory but integral perspectives."
One could say this about almost every issue the Church deals with. "Both/and" is the mantra of Orthodox theology!
"There are only two historically grounded and morally acceptable positions that Orthodoxy allows ... absolute pacifism and justifiable war. What I think is happening, ironically and sadly, is the creation of another stance that reflects neither of the two classic trajectories...."
"This new idea insists that war may be a 'lesser evil' or a 'necessary evil.'....But this is a pacifist premise with a justifiable war conclusion! You cannot rationally invoke a pacifist premise that all war is evil and then act upon it positively--at least not without misunderstanding the logic of absolute pacifism, which has its own vitality and integrity, and also seriously misconstruing and distorting the justifiable war tradition."
CS Lewis, writing in "Mere Christianity", agreed that the "middle ground" approach is philosophically precarious:
"War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semi-pacifism you get nowadays which gives the people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face as if you were ashamed of it."
In a recent discussion, a young Orthodox woman asked our priest what the "Orthodox position on war" was. The simple answer, the one that all the Church Fathers agree no matter which side of the paradox they fall, was the one our priest gave:
The Church is not "pro-war" since war (justified or not) is always seen by the Church as falling short of the glory of God. Yet the Church is not "anti-war" as we pray for victory of our armed forces that they may "keep Your Holy Church secure" and fight against those who would harm the Church and prevent the faithful from living lives of "peace and repentance."